Edited by: Jordan Fuller
Reviewed by: John Marshall
In today’s market, there’s a nearly overwhelming selection of different iron sets.
So how does the amateur golfer know where to start?
The #1 criteria for an amateur golfer’s iron set should be how forgiving it is.
When even Hogan is satisfied by a mere 3 good shots per round, the average amateur will mis-hit the ball more often than not.
So a forgiving set of irons that can turn a poor swing into a decent shot is a must.
We’ve spent the last 3 months reviewing almost every iron set available on the market and found the most forgiving iron. Read on to find out more.
Last updated on 2020-12-05. The links are affiliate links. Product images are served from Amazon Product Advertising API.
Table Of Contents
- 1 Featured Recommendations
- 2 10 Most Forgiving Irons
- 3 Testing Protocol & Criteria Used For Evaluation
- 4 Questions & Answers
10 Most Forgiving Irons
TaylorMade M6 Iron Set
Most Forgiving: Great sound, forgiveness and feel make for one of the best sets on the market
TaylorMade’s M6 irons take the advances of the M4 and expand on them, strengthening the weaknesses of last year’s model and producing a truly outstanding iron set.
The new “Speed Bridge,” a small strip of metal that connects the sole to the topline, allows TaylorMade to keep the face extremely thin while lending a feeling of stability and reducing vibrations.
The most distinctive and immediately noticeable design element of the TaylorMade M6 irons, the Speed Bridge is a metal band connecting the sole with the topline of the iron. This provides extra stability to the iron, allowing TaylorMade to keep the face extremely thin for a large portion of the surface of the club face.
The sweet spot is thus enlarged, allowing for pure contact over a very large portion of the club face. As a result, the forgiveness is as good as I’ve seen in an iron, with virtually no distance lost when the ball is hit a little towards the toe or heel. Ball flight is remarkably straight, keeping iron shots in play no matter where on the face contact is made.
The only drawback to the Speed Bridge that I could find is the sound. It seems to magnify the sound at impact, so even though there are compression dampers on the back reducing vibrations, it’s a very loud iron. It takes some getting used to, but overall isn’t a deal breaker.
TaylorMade has cleverly moved weight out of the hosel by fluting it 360 degrees, taking little bits of metal out and repositioning the weight on the heel, sole and toe of the iron, providing extreme perimeter weighting for optimum forgiveness. There’s also an “undercut” out of sight on the heel of the club, again for purposes of repositioning every bit of weight they can.
The extra weight in the sole lowers the center of gravity to make it easier to get the ball in air. This especially helps get better trajectory out of the rough, and assists players with slower swing speeds. Impacts low on the face are rewarded with penetrating ball flights but a good amount of backspin and stopping power, instead of runaway worm-burners.
All the bells and whistles, the fluted hosel and undercut, the speed bridge and extra sole weight, they all contribute to better golf shots. So even they create kind of a Frankenstein look when you first inspect the club, the performance speaks for itself. And TaylorMade has taken great pains to make sure that all these things are hidden when it really counts: when you address the ball.
The M6 actually looks very clean at address, with a relatively thin and confidence-inspiring topline. There’s a helpful offset that will encourage a straight or slightly drawing ball flight. The M6 is one of the most forgiving and best-performing iron sets I’ve tested.
TaylorMade M4 Iron Set
Best For Distance: High-tech at every turn
The TaylorMade M4 irons are bursting at the seams with new ideas and materials that TaylorMade hopes will make the ball fly further and straighter than ever.
They do produce great distance when you put a good swing on them.
From the rear, the clubs look a bit like Frankenstein’s monster due to the RIBCOR technology that makes the sole look almost detached from the clubface. This has a purpose, but it doesn’t look great.
In regards to the iron’s tech, I can’t argue with it. They’ve redistributed weight to the sole of the club and made the face thin and springy, which helps get the launch angle high. The sharp leading edge cuts through the rough nicely. TaylorMade claims RIBCOR stiffens the perimeter of the iron and helps with sound and feel, but I felt that the sound was somehow off; it was clunky even on well-struck shots.
I think they’re heading in the right direction and with a little tidying up on a few design elements, TaylorMade has a real winner on their hands.
We have also reviewed the driver version of the TaylorMade M4.
Callaway Golf Men's Rogue Irons Set
The Longest Forgiving Irons: Runaway distance, but rocky feel
Callaway’s Rogue line of clubs is designed with urethane behind the ultra-thin clubface that is intended to give extra bounce and distance at impact. These irons are no different: they’re about as long as any irons I’ve hit, with a nice penetrating trajectory.
Muted feel, muted forgiveness
Forgiveness is sacrificed a bit here, as missing the sweet spot produces a thudd-y clank sound and a ball flight that leaves a little to be desired. The satisfying snap I’m used to hearing from Callaway irons is a little deficient here.
Overall, the irons just feel extra stiff, like they’re fighting the ball instead of just hitting it. I found them remarkably easy to work from right to left and left to right, and they do look great. Squaring them at approach and nestling the irons behind the ball inspires a confident swing.
Face gains, tungsten toe
The remarkable distance is a result of their Face Cup and Variable Face Technology that expands the springy area of the super-thin clubface. A tungsten weight in the toe puts the center of gravity in a low, forward spot to help get the ball up in the air quickly. However, I’ve found that tungsten is often the culprit in an iron that feels too stiff and sounds clanky.
They do what they can to temper the sound with a pillow of urethane microspheres in the hollow space behind the clubface. I shudder to think of what they’d sound like without the urethane padding!
The last thing Callaway has done to max out distance is to strength the loft of every iron. The 3-iron is 18 degree, which in years past would be called a 1- or 2-iron. The pitching wedge is 44 degrees, the loft of a Mizuno 9-iron. This might be why they fly so far but don’t have the forgiveness you’re expecting from the iron you’re hitting.
But if you’re looking for breakout distance, the Rogues are hard to beat.
TaylorMade SIM Max Irons
Forgiving Iron Set for Mid Handicappers
The TaylorMade SIM Max Irons offer terrific forgiveness with a stylish design and exceptional performance. The irons don’t waste an ounce of material as the streamlined design delivers everything to the golf ball in an energetic and exciting package.
The SIM Max irons feature many of TaylorMade’s most popular technologies. The Speed Pocket sits directly behind the face for increased ball speed while enhancing forgiveness on lower half strikes.
All irons are bonded with the company’s Speed Bridge technology along the back of the club. The bridge, consisting of one steel bar, supports the irons’ exceptional distance and terrific forgiveness.
If you like workability with your irons, the SIM Max provides a marvelous foundation for creating the shot height and shape. For golfers who want to draw their shots with their irons, the SIM Max irons are well adept at handling the inside-out swing that produces the right to left shot shape.
The patented ECHO Damping System helps produce clean contact with an outrageously good feel. Instead of getting those jarring vibrations when the ball hits away from the center of the clubface, the dampening system secures the club for immediate response.
First, a slight warning for high handicappers and beginners, the SIM Max irons are not ideal for the inexperienced golfer. The learning curve to master these irons takes time and experience, so while they might not be great for this level of golfer now, that doesn’t mean they aren’t irons to strive for in the future.
With excellent strength, the TaylorMade SIM Max Irons provides fantastic distance with outstanding shotmaking capabilities.
Cleveland Golf 2018 Men's Launcher CBX Iron Set
Aptly named, excellent clubs
Cleveland is a company known primarily for their wedges, but with the Launcher CBX irons they’re making a big play in the iron market.
Most noticeable upon first glance is the extremely thick sole, putting a ton of weight in the bottom of the clubface to provide a low center of gravity. This results in a quick launch and high ball flight, with great backspin and forgiveness.
Golfers who struggle to hit the ball high enough to clear water hazards and stop their ball on the green will find a lot to like here.
Thick sole for tough lies
The thick sole cuts through rough like a machete and digs the ball out of the grass. It also makes it possible to get the ball in the air from tight fairway and even hardpan lies.
Cleveland touts the “Cup Face” technology in the Launcher CBX irons, which increases the spring effect at impact and results in excellent ball speeds off the clubface.
This helps heel and toe shots fly nearly as far as sweet spot strikes, though thin shots did see a noticeable distance loss in the long irons.
Speaking of the long irons, they’re a bit thicker than the short irons. Some golfers may actually find the thicker toplines increasing their confidence, but I found the look a little off-putting. It seemed to me like they couldn’t decide if they wanted to be irons or hybrids. Ultimately, however, it’ll come down to your personal preference.
Cleveland’s special grooves
Cleveland wedges are well known for their zip-grooves and laser milling, which is why you see such high usage both on tour and among amateurs.
They’ve brought these features to these irons, maximizing the backspin produced and making it easier to get the ball to stay on the green. Zip grooves are micro-grooves in between the regular grooves you see on clubs, and they really help produce more spin than most amateurs are used to seeing. You might even find your 9 iron taking one hop and then sucking back a few inches.
Cleveland has a winner on their hands with the Launcher CBX: a combination of great forgiveness and distance with high ball flights and max spin that will benefit most golfers.
Callaway X Hot Iron Set
Best forgiving iron set for beginning golfers
The Callaway X-Hot Iron Set produces exceptional forgiveness for golfers that are having a tough time hitting shots directly to their target area.
If you are looking for a set of irons that will forgive your off-center strikes without losing that precious exit velocity that determines distance, then the X-Hot certainly fits that need and delivers first-rate performance.
Distance over direction
The best feature of the X-Hot set that helps them achieve forgiveness is the Speed Frame Face technology. While the X-Hot is known primarily for its distance, the designers at Callaway crafted these irons to also provide more forgiveness to golfers. The way they achieved this feat is by using their current technology with their driver lines and modified it to be used on their iron sets.
During our testing, we were blown away by the X-Hot’s ability to handle our shots that drifted toward the toe. Not only did they stay relatively straight, but their distance stayed close to our average yardage.
Suited for mid and high handicappers
One minor complaint is the understanding that this iron set is suited for mid and high handicappers. Known as game-improvement irons, these cavity-backed clubs are perimeter-weighted to provide forgiveness and consistency, but not for shaping shots like low handicappers want for their irons.
If you are struggling with getting the ball into the air and keeping it along the target line, the Callaway X-Hot Iron Set is solidly built and well-designed to provide performance and overall improvement to your game.
Cleveland Golf Mens Launcher HB Iron Set
Extremely long but minimal spin from this all-hybrid set
The Cleveland Launcher HB iron set is an “iron set” in name only. In actuality, it’s a set of hybrids with lofts that match up to traditional iron lofts.
Each club has a wood-like hollow body, all the way through the pitching wedge. This will be great news to some players who find irons overly difficult to hit and need the help of hollow hybrid bodies. Other players will balk at the concept and should look elsewhere.
The hollow design of the hybrid irons brings the forgiveness and distance of woods to clubs with iron lofts. The club faces are extremely springy and provide high, long ball flights that outpaced every other iron tested. One big reason for this is that the ball carries very little spin off the hybrids’ club faces.
This lack of spin is good for players who don’t hit the ball very far and need it to roll out onto the green on approach shots. However, if you’re someone who likes to control your iron shots somewhat, you’ll find it very difficult to do so with the Launcher HB.
There isn’t much backspin applied to the ball, so landing it on the green and having it actually stay on the green is difficult. Ball flights tend to be dead straight no matter how hard you may try to work it. While some players will see this and think “that’s exactly what I want!”, others will find it frustrating that they’re not able to hit draws or fades.
If you’re in the trees and need to curve a recovery shot, it’s difficult to make it happen.
But beginners and high handicappers will likely find the straight, long ball flight and good forgiveness to be beneficial to their games. Senior players who find their swing speed decreasing may also benefit from the high, long flight of the Launcher HB.
True to the Launcher name, these have a very low center of gravity that helps dig the ball out of deep rough or tight lies. High swing speed players will likely not see the distance gains, though, and instead will high ballooning moon shots that don’t go anywhere.
Low-to-mid-swing speed players and seniors are the target market here. I’m hesitant to recommend these to outright beginners as I think it’s worthwhile to find traditional irons that you can learn to work as you improve.
Tour Edge Golf- Hot Launch 3 Triple Combo Irons
Iron/hybrid combo set for long iron bliss
Tour Edge is a small company headquartered in the Chicago suburbs. They don’t have any official tour players, but many tour pros use their fairway woods without any official endorsement. That should be enough proof that they know what they’re doing as far as clubmaking.
A Combo Set
The Hot Launch 3 is a combo set of hybrids, “ironwoods”, and irons. The hybrid long irons resemble small fairway woods and are very easy to pluck off the turf and launch straight up into the air. For those of you who have trouble hitting anything other than a wedge, this could be the answer.
The ironwoods are a new concept: essentially, they’re a hybrid of a hybrid and an iron. Sounds silly, I know! But many players find that even mid irons are tough to hit high enough to keep the ball from rolling over the green, and the help that the rounded back provides on the Hot Launch 3 ironwoods is significant.
The 8-iron and up are more traditional cavity-back irons, but taken to the extreme for forgiveness, with the sweet spot extending nearly across the whole face.
Sweet sweet spots
Across the set, these have giant sweet spots that are nearly impossible to miss. The ball flies about as far on a toe hit as it does off the middle of the clubface. The perimeter weighting and Tour Edge’s variable-face-thickness technology see to that, offering the best forgiveness overall of any of the irons tested.
However, the overall distance from both good and bad strikes was noticeably lower than other irons in my tests. I found I had to use a club extra on most shots to make sure I was able to clear the hazards and get the ball all the way to the green.
Moon shot trajectories
The high trajectory also made the ball more susceptible to the wind, and the design of the clubs made it tough to produce a lower ball flight even with a knock-down swing.
The Hot Launch 3 is a great set for beginners who are having trouble hitting irons across the board. Better players whose ball flight is too low or who are willing to give up some yardage in order to hit straighter shots should also be interested in these.
The durability rating comes from the fact that the paint seems to chip and scratch fairly easily, so it won’t take long until these look a little beaten up. I’d suggest headcovers for both the hybrids and the ironwood.
All in all, a great entry from a quality manufacturer.
Testing Protocol & Criteria Used For Evaluation
Criterion 1 – Forgiveness
This article is intended to find the most forgiving iron sets available today, so obviously the first and most heavily weighted criterion is forgiveness.
Worth a max of 40 points, the forgiveness rating takes into account both distance and directional forgiveness on heel, toe, and thin shots. There’s not much a club can do to correct a chunk!
You may find one set more forgiving than another because you tend to miss your shots thin only, and so a low center-of-gravity iron would be perfect for you.
If your miss tends to be on the toe, you may want to find an oversized iron with a larger sweet spot. And if you tend to miss towards the heel and slice the ball, a club with an extreme offset might fit the bill.
Criterion 2 – Distance
If the forgiveness level between two clubs winds up being about equal, you’ll want to squeeze as much distance as you can out of each shot. The closer you can get to the green on a par 5 or a long par 4, the better chance you’ll have of making a good score. And wouldn’t you rather hit a 9-iron to a 150-yard par 3 than a 7-iron?
Hitting a club with more loft offers more backspin and thus more forgiveness and accuracy. So the distance potential of a club actually has a pretty big impact on the forgiveness level of an iron set. With this in mind, irons can earn a maximum of 30 points of distance rating.
Criterion 3 – Feel
The last three criteria will receive a maximum of ten points each. They’re the little things that can sometimes help tip the scales between otherwise closely matched iron sets. First up is feel.
Feel has two components: first is how the club feels when it strikes the ball. A good strike should feel smooth and buttery, almost like the ball just leapt off the clubface rather than being impacted by it.
Second is how it sounds. A lot of golfers don’t realize this until they hear a sound they don’t like at impact. A satisfying click will make an iron feel much better than a clunky thump, even if both shots turn out identically.
Feel plays a big part in your confidence. If you’ve hit a few great-feeling shots on the driving range before the round, you’ll play with more optimism and confidence.
Criterion 4 – Looks
I’m of the opinion that looks are overrated in the golf world. Many golfers fawn over shiny chrome forged blades, but are they really the best clubs? For 99.9% of players in the world, the answer is no. Henrik Stenson is considered one of the best and most consistent ball-strikers in the world, but even he uses cavity-back irons.
The loss of performance on even a slight mis-hit when you’re using blades is so drastic that I don’t recommend them for any golfers at all. The performance level of cavity-back irons is so high that I think every golfer will benefit from them at all levels.
I also think results can quickly change your opinion on a club’s looks. An “ugly” club that consistently hits the ball right at the flagstick will become beautiful in no time at all!
Criterion 5 – Durability
Durability for an iron set can be measured in a few different ways. All clubs will show bag chatter unless you use individual headcovers for each club (which I think is overkill — leave headcovers for woods, hybrids and putter only), but some forged clubs will look ten years old after just a few rounds played. Cast irons, on the other hand, might not feel as smooth but will show much less wear and tear even after a few seasons of play.
Grips will always wear down and should be replaced at minimum once a year, so unless there’s something horribly wrong with the grips, I won’t take them into account for durability.
Clubheads should be stable and secure in the shaft. Steel shafts will be more durable than graphite, but even graphite shafts should last for a decade or more. Since I’m only testing 2018 models, there will have to be an egregious lack of build quality to lose points in the durability category.
Questions & Answers
What is the difference between cast and forged irons?
Cast irons are made from molten metal poured into a mold. They take the shape of the mold and are then cooled. Cast irons are typically the most durable, but also the hardest feeling clubs.
Forged irons are made from a single piece of superheated metal that is shaped into the proper shape. This result in softer, better feeling irons but they wear out more quickly. Once the chrome veneer is worn off, the metal underneath will rust and the irons will need to be replaced.
Cast and forged irons can often be found in an iron set.
Do I need a 1-iron? A 3-iron? A 9-iron?
Most sets today come with either 4-iron through pitching wedge or 5-iron through pitching wedge. Long irons, like 3- and 4-irons, are typically the most difficult clubs to hit, even for professionals. So hybrids have taken the place of many long irons.
Until you’re a scratch golfer, I wouldn’t even think of attempting to hit a 1-, 2- or 3-iron. And if your 4- and 5-irons are frustrating you, there are quality hybrids that will make your life on the course much easier. A few of the sets we reviewed are combo sets that offer hybrids for the long irons and traditional irons for mid- and short-irons.
For beginners, I’d recommend a set as such: Driver, 3-wood, 5-wood, 5-hybrid or 5-iron, 6-iron thru pitching wedge, gap wedge (50-52 degrees), sand wedge (56 degrees), lob wedge (60 degrees), and putter. This will set you up with the best chance of success.
Cavity-back or blade?
Cavity-back irons are designed to have large sweet spots made possible by moving the weight of the club from the back of the iron to the perimeter. A blade (or muscleback) has the weight centered behind the sweet spot. This may sound nice, but you have to hit the ball purely every time. Miss the sweet spot by just a fraction of an inch and your ball will lose a ton of distance.
For this reason, I suggest cavity-backs for all levels of player. Even the best professionals don’t hit the sweet spot every time, and a cavity-back will help this mis-hits still make it close to the original target in a way that blades just can’t pull off.
Can’t I just buy a $50 set at a garage sale?
If at all possible, I suggest getting fitted for your irons. If that’s not possible, try to hit demos of the irons you’re considering at a golf store. And if that’s not an option either, I’d still suggest you buy a new set of clubs. Technology has come a long way in recent years, so older clubs will really hamper your efforts to have fun playing golf.
Used clubs can also have been hit so much that their lofts and lies have been knocked off-kilter, or they may have been custom-fitted to a golfer with a very different swing and stature than you. And their grooves are likely worn down from use, which reduces the amount of backspin you can generate. Backspin helps get the ball into the air, fly straighter, and stop when it lands on the green.